For some, the road ahead is perfectly clear. They're set on what they want to be – an ER doc, a chef, or whatever their lifelong passion – and know exactly how to get there. For others, it's a bit bumpier. Fall into the latter category? Whether your college major is a broad one with almost too many opportunities, or you aren't even interested in your major anymore, the job hunt can be both exciting and intimidating. Where are you supposed to begin if you barely know what you want to do? Is it okay to apply at random until something sticks? Read on for these answers and more. We've rounded up seven tips for this tricky goal-searching time.
Utilize campus resources
It's very likely that the best person (or department) for you to chat with at this point is right on your campus. "Get to know the career counselor at your college. It's an invaluable resource where you can get expert opinions and guidance," suggests Christine Brown, director of K-12 and college prep programs for Kaplan Test Prep. Those who work in career services likely have years of experience in helping undergraduates figure out what they want to do with their degrees, she says. "It's in a college's interest to make sure its students are employed and successful. They also may have some sort of skills test to help you figure out what you are good at and what field you may want to go into.”
Consider your interests
Jot down what you love to do in your free time and what motivates you—then figure out a way to connect those passions to the working world. “For example, if your passion is skydiving and you don't plan on jumping out of planes for a living, you need to look at the underlying motivator behind that behavior,” says Alexa Hamill, US Campus Recruiting Leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers. “In this case, you might be passionate about venturing into the unknown. That could play very well in certain professions, like mergers and acquisitions, change management, etc.”
Think about the internships you’ve held
How did each of your internships make you feel? What did you like or dislike about them? If you’re currently interning, start a daily journal to keep track of these thoughts. “After several internships, you should have a good sense of the activities that you really enjoyed, those that, while perhaps mundane or repetitive, you got satisfaction from because you understood how they contributed to 'the bigger picture,’” says Hamill’s colleague Miranda Kalinowski, US Recruiting Leader for PwC. Next, develop a checklist based on your intern experiences so that you can be clear on the activities you would like to be exposed to, she adds. “From there you can start the search for roles that involve those activities within your target companies.”
Check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ website
There, you can find terrific data on what people in certain jobs earn, plus the outlook in job growth in that area, advises Brown. “That said, while hard data about salary is important, earning potential isn't the most important factor for all aspiring professionals.” Ask yourself this: Would you prefer to do something you love for not much money, or do something you don’t like and make a lot? Or, can you have the best of both worlds? “For a lot of people, it's job satisfaction and doing something you are passionate about,” says Brown. “Government data doesn't always capture that. It's very objective. The more accurate, up-to-date information you have, the better off you'll be.”
Once you start to get a good idea of what you want to do, seek out current practitioners in your chosen field. “Find out about the challenges and success they face. See if the job is all they thought it was cracked up to be, or if they have regrets,” recommends Brown. The career services office at your college is a great place to start, as they may be able to connect you with alumni. Feel awkward about reaching out? Don’t be. “Sending that first email shows strength and initiative,” says Renee Walrath, President of Walrath Recruiting, Inc., a staffing and recruiting firm with locations in Albany and Saratoga Springs, NY. If someone doesn’t respond, that’s okay—but if they do, you could potentially find a mentor and even hear about job openings, adds Walrath.
Keep on interning
Really clueless on your next move? Take Walrath’s advice: look for paid internships. “If you’re still unclear after graduation about what direction you want to follow, approach an organization that has a mission you believe in and ask about their internship opportunities,” she says. Interning gives you real work experience, and there’s nothing wrong with doing that after graduation. After all, Walrath says, it’s better to be seen as a curious, ambitious intern than an entry-leveler who hops from place to place.
Make note of what you’re reading online or in magazines. What types of articles seem to always reel you in? The answer could help clue you in to what you might enjoy doing with your career.